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Cold Weather Cancer

December 26, 2006

When we think of protecting our skin, most of us think about sunscreen and summer. But your skin can really take some abuse during the winter months. Even though it may not get the exposure it does from May to August, you still need to be mindful of the sun's damaging rays.

Growing up in the sun-drenched south of France, Lara Decamps says she was an avid sun worshiper. But, years of soaking up rays resulted in Lara developing freckles. One in particular ended up being a melanoma.

"He just said that don't worry, we found something," Decamps said. "But it is at a stage where you came early enough we can take care of it, and hopefully it is not going throughout your body and you should be fine."

And that's why Dr. Ariel Ostad, of NYU Medical Center, says winter is no time to stop protecting your skin with sunscreen.

"Since the development of melanoma has to do with how much sun you get, it is important to wear sun screen year round," Dr. Ostad said. "On a clear day during the winter, enough sun rays hit the sun that it actually causes enough damage beneath your skin."

Freckles are a response to sun damage. As part of the healing process, the body produces more pigmentation, more color. The idea is by producing more pigment, it protects those areas of skin that have been damaged.

"Melanomas are definitely on the rise," Dr. Ostad said. "The incidence of melanoma are increasing every year. The current statistics show that one out of seventy-five people will develop melanoma in their lifetime. Melanoma usually arise out of existing moles or certainly freckles," Dr. Ostad said.

If you see a freckle change in size, color or if the shape becomes irregular, you'll want to get it checked by a dermatologist.

"How well someone does with melanoma has to do with how early it is caught," Dr. Ostad said. "And the earlier the melanoma is caught, the better chance of a cure. If melanoma is not caught at an early stage, it can quickly spread to either organs and it can be fatal," Dr. Ostad said.

As a rule, you should always use a sun screen with at least SPF-15, and according to the American Cancer Society, the risk of melanoma is about 20-times higher for white people than for African Americans.

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